Title IX question
September 6, 2018 1:22 PM   Subscribe

I'm a department chair at a small liberal arts college. Today, a student informed me that she had heard a rumor that she and a professor in my department were engaged in a sexual relationship. She stated very firmly that there was nothing to the rumor and that the professor had never acted in any way that could be construed as inappropriate but that she was also worried that the rumor might get around and that he might be negatively affected by it. I let him know about the rumor without disclosing the identity of the student. Do I also need to inform the Title IX office? For the record, I am positive that the rumor is completely baseless.
posted by mrspotta to Education (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I was until recently a department chair. I would talk to the Title IX folks about it, but have experience with our Title IX office that would make me believe they would handle it well. I suspect they would do nothing unless other evidence that contradicted the student's denial came up. My feeling is to let those with the expertise do their jobs; certainly, I have little experience in dealing with such things.
posted by procrastination at 1:28 PM on September 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

I agree that asking for some guidance from the Title IX folks would be a good idea. That said, if you don't know your Title IX staff well, I would ask them the question in as anonymizing a way as possible. So:

"A student came forward and said that they had heard a rumor from another student that a professor in my department was having an sexual relationship with them. The student told me there was nothing to the rumor and I believe them. Do we need to take this any further?"

From what you say, it sounds like baseless gossip. I wouldn't even put it into their head that this was something that was said about a specific faculty member.
posted by Betelgeuse at 1:48 PM on September 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

I also had a positive experience with my university's Title IX office, and they offered a bunch of things they could do in response to my issue that were sensitive to departmental social dynamics. +1 for talking to them.

I would probably also want to document this conversation somehow in case the rumor eventually negatively impacted the student, but that doesn't necessarily have to be via your Title IX office.
posted by momus_window at 2:09 PM on September 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

You can also always start with your campus Women's Center, if you have one. In my experience they are great about advising what issues need to be taken to Title IX and which do not, and since in many places Women's Center employees may be confidential employees, it means that conversations you have with them won't be on-record in the way that they might be if you started with Title IX.
posted by stellaluna at 2:15 PM on September 6, 2018

I am a current dean and previous department chair, and I just completed my Title IX review training. I think you don’t lose if you take it to the title IX coordinator, but you might get into hot water if you don’t. But I agree, it’s gray.
posted by leahwrenn at 6:44 PM on September 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

she was also worried that the rumor might get around and that he might be negatively affected by it.

It will -- in fact, it already has -- and he will. If the student felt comfortable bringing it to a department head then it is already spread amongst students. You should go immediately to your Title IX office, and tell them everything. Also, for the record, you should NOT have gone to that professor and said anything at all. Especially now, in the era of #MeToo, I do not want to hear anyone say "I could never imagine him doing that sort of thing!" because he could. Many others could, and did.

You can't do anything to protect your colleague, your job is protect yourself and the students in your care. I mean, I teach in a junior high school and even I know what being a mandated reporter means, jfc
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 7:17 PM on September 6, 2018 [4 favorites]

You can't do anything to protect your colleague, your job is protect yourself and the students in your care

In this case, the student who is the (other) subject of the rumour has said that the rumour is not true and the professor has not acted inappropriately.
posted by jb at 7:51 PM on September 6, 2018

Relatedly: the presumed innocence of both parties doesn’t mean the student doesn’t need protection, or that OP can’t inadvertently violate mandatory reporting obligations which they may have and may even be unaware of.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:57 PM on September 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

Couldn't the people spreading the rumors potentially be in violation and *both* the student and the professor be victims? Lots of potential issues here and it's not your job to be an investigator. Let the title IX office sort this out.
posted by NormieP at 8:43 PM on September 6, 2018

You should consult the title IX training materials that you have most likely received as a probable mandatory reporter.
posted by SaltySalticid at 9:02 PM on September 6, 2018

Something here seems really off to me. Specifically, the student is worried about the *professor's* reputation? If I were a student and heard a baseless rumor that I was sleeping with a professor, I'd be worried about the (many possible) negative impacts on ME, not the professor. I think you have to at least consider the possibility that this student is carrying water for said professor, possibly at his behest. And I think you should very, very seriously question why you are 'positive' that the rumor is baseless. Interrogate that with the same analytical rigor and skepticism you no doubt bring to your academic research and I think you may find it's a pretty suspect assertion, given the rich and horrible history of people being 'positive' that nothing untoward is going on when powerful men are rumored to be abusing the young people around them. Please report this.
posted by Ausamor at 7:55 AM on September 7, 2018 [5 favorites]

Thanks for all the suggestions. I did talk to the Title IX coordinator today, and she said there was no reason for her office to get involved because there was no charge of sexual harassment and no individual identified as a possible harasser. She also said that investigations can't be opened on the basis of rumors or anonymous sources. In other words, you have to have someone willing to step forward and make a specific accusation against a specific individual; otherwise, it's just gossip.
posted by mrspotta at 3:25 PM on September 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

« Older What are my responsibilities as a carpool parent...   |   Asking for my cat: Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments